There is a lot of misinformation out there about the ins and outs of spending a night in your RV in Walmart parking lots. Can I stay for a night at every Walmart? How long can I stay? Do I need to call ahead? Where can I park? Can I put slides out? Do I have to go inside and buy anything? We’re going to work through the list to clear the air and set everything straight once and for all. We have stayed at many Walmarts all across the country, and the process has been the same at every single one. Let’s get to it!
Walmart’s RV Policies & Local Overnight Parking Ordinances
To best answer the first question, “Can I stay for a night at every Walmart?”, we need to look at two main factors: corporate policy and local ordinances. Here is the current corporate policy straight from walmart.com:
While we do not offer electrical service or accommodations typically necessary for RV customers, Walmart values RV travelers and considers them among our best customers. Consequently, we do permit RV parking on our store parking lots as we are able. Permission to park is extended by individual store managers, based on availability of parking space and local laws. Please contact management in each store to ensure accommodations before parking your RV.
That statement lays it out pretty clearly: you can park at any Walmart that has space and isn’t restricted by local laws. The key takeaway from this policy is the final line though; you have to contact the manager at the store before you arrive. We’ve called ahead every time and have always been warmly greeted (or warmly turned away if the city didn’t allow it).
There are a few resources out there for planning ahead that will save you some time on the phone. AllStays is a fantastic website and set of apps for many reasons, one of which is a fairly comprehensive list of Walmarts across the country including user-submitted information about overnight RV parking at those locations. Check out their maps to see what Walmarts are on your route that may allow overnight parking to break up a long travel day or two.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Overnight Parking at Walmart
We see a ton of questions online every week about overnight parking at Walmart. Here are our recommendations based on our experiences:
- Call ahead and speak to the manager. Not only will they tell you if overnight parking is allowed at that Walmart, they’ll also give you directions on where to park. Not all Walmarts have massive, sprawling parking lots for thousands of cars! There are many things to consider that only the manager will know about: delivery truck routes, construction, repairs, temporary storage, line painting, employee parking areas… The list goes on.
More often than not we’ve been directed to park along the perimeter of the parking lot or on the garden side of the building. We’ve also been extended a warm welcome and been unable to fit due to other RV’s, not getting anywhere near level, or being unable to even safely get into a tight parking lot. In those cases, we made sure to call back and let them know that we aren’t staying and to thank them for their hospitality.
- Be nice! Keep in mind that this is a free courtesy that Walmart is extending to us that they don’t have to, so be friendly and understanding when you’re talking to the employees or manager at the store. If you’re told you can’t stay don’t get angry or snippy with them. Thank them for their time and keep rolling down the road.
- Park smart. Try to take up as little space as possible and be smart about how you’re using that space. If you’re told to park along the perimeter of the lot, find a nice stretch of spaces where you’ll fit and be relatively level and think about how others might park around you. I try to choke up on the edge of a space in front of my truck to “encourage” others not to park there so I have room to pull out in the morning. Or if there is a median between parking areas, give yourself a few feet from your vehicle to that median so you have room to maneuver but others won’t fit.
This may seem like you’re taking up more room than you need, but it’s WAY more considerate than having to go into the store, page the owner of the blue Mazda, and drag them out to move their car. Only RV owners or truck drivers are really going to think about blocking an RV in or know how much space it takes to move around, so use your “body language” to help keep your path clear. Even better: if you travel with two vehicles, just park your follow car/van in the way!
- Using your rig. This is where most of the common questions crop up. You’re not in a Walmart parking lot to set up a full campsite for the night, but you are allowed to be comfortable. Here are some general tips to make your Walmart surfing successful:
- Slides: We can’t access our living room, kitchen, or kids’ room without opening our living room slide. If you have a similar situation, go ahead and open the slide that you need to. Just make sure you park so that slide doesn’t open up into other spaces, aisles, or lanes. I try to park ours so the living room slide comes out over a curb or into the spots we’re already occupying. That being said, we don’t open up our other two slides because they aren’t necessary. Don’t do a full deployment – only run out the slides that you really need.
- Supports: Nope, sorry. You’re just going to have a bouncy, rocky night. Not only can your rig’s supports do damage to asphalt parking lots, they also give the impression that you’re setting up camp. You’ll be fine without them for a night, I promise.
- Wheel Chocks: Technically, you should always drop wheel chocks when you park your rig, especially if it’s a towable like a Travel Trailer or Fifth Wheel. Parking brakes on trucks are pretty strong, but RV’s can be quite heavy and it’s just good practice to do what you can to keep that thing from trying to roll and take your truck with it. This is especially true when you’re stopped somewhere that’s not level. Go ahead and chock your wheels.
- Disconnecting: If you’re in a towable, don’t disconnect your truck. You should be able to move your RV at a moment’s notice if something comes up, both for safety and courtesy. If you’re in a Class A or C with a towed vehicle, I don’t see any issues with disconnecting that to maybe fit into a smaller space. You’re not there to sight-see though, so don’t disconnect and drive off into town leaving your rig behind unattended.
- Generators: Again, nope, sorry. They’re too loud and stinky. Make sure all your rig and phone batteries are topped off and that you know how to use/install an inverter if you need electricity for something. I sleep with a CPAP so I installed a pure sine wave inverter in our RV so I can run it off battery power in these situations.
- A/C and Heat: These fall under the “be comfortable while being considerate” category and neither of these systems are very loud or obtrusive so run them if you need to. Remember: no generators, so if you can run your A/C strictly off of battery power go for it! We can’t, so when hitting Walmarts for a night during the summer we just try to arrive after dark and leave before it heats up. Your rig may be different, but we can run our A/C in fan-only mode on batteries, so that at least helps move air around. As for heat, most RV heating systems run on 12V and propane, so you should be able to run those without a huge battery bank.
- Outdoor accessories: Nope yet again! Don’t put your awning out, set up chairs, and start grilling. Don’t send the kids outside to burn off energy. If you want/need to do that, go find a real campground or proper boondocking location that allows these things. You’re here to sleep for the night, so be as quiet and unobtrusive as possible.
- BE CLEAN! Do I really need to expand on this? Keep your area clean, pick up after your dog, return your cart. Don’t leave trash on the ground, don’t use the store’s dumpsters, don’t fill up the little trash cans in the parking lots. On a related note: don’t use their bathrooms unless you’re actively in there shopping, and definitely don’t use their bathrooms for your nighttime or morning routine (brushing teeth, doing hair, etc). You literally have your own tiny house there with you in the parking lot – use it! Just be smart and clean. No one should even know you were there once you’ve rolled away.
- Shop in the store. Yes, Walmart already makes tens of billions from their customers, but (again) this is a free courtesy that they’re extending for us that they don’t have to. There’s a good chance you already need to grab more milk, bread, or other staples and who doesn’t LOVE pulling their shopping cart up to their rig to unload it? If you’re already good to go though, go grab a road snack or a pack of gum. Thank the manager if you can find them without being obtrusive.
- One night only! Don’t use Walmart as a free alternative to a local campground if you’re in the area to sight-see or work. Also, don’t drop off your rig and take your truck or towed vehicle to go check out the nearby town for the evening. Not only is that a safety issue, it’s abusing this free system they have set up for us. You should try to roll into the parking lot in the evening and roll out first thing in the morning. You’re only there to stay for one night on your way from point A to point B.
Don’t Ruin It for Everyone
Aside from a few technical points above (like using slides or not), this is all really common sense. You’re a guest in their parking lot, so act like you would if you were parked in your Mom’s driveway. As long as you obtain permission, keep to yourself, keep your area clean, and act like a generally civil and courteous person, you’re doing it right!